(Margo Hearne photo)

On The Wing: Raptors in the wind, shearwaters in the waves

By Margo Hearne

A hawk glides over the dune ridges. It circles, banks and hovers in the stiff breeze. Its behaviour is kite-like as it holds easily in the upper air. Its broad wings and red tail spread and waver as it holds in place. The Red-tailed Hawk has a way of just being there. It nests nearby and is usually seen here throughout the year. An hour or so later we saw it again but this time it was sitting on the grass. We were still some distance away but it hopped through the long grass to avoid us then flew up and circled in the near distance. It obviously had something in its talons and didn’t want to let it lie there. We let it get on with its aerial life.

READ MORE: On the Wing: Small Yellow Flying Things

In the pond behind the dunes three dark ducks sat to wait out the weather. They were small and seemed to have no field-marks at all until they took wing, then a whitish splotch appeared on their open wings. Cinnamon Teal. We haven’t seen any for quite a few years and they were the right size and shape. Cinnamons are lovely birds with rusty red plumage during nesting season. These have come from afar. Unlike their close cousins the Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, they don’t nest here so have been blown in on the recent southeasters. From where? According to B.C.’s Breeding Bird Atlas “observations are generally low everywhere, reflecting the fact that this is one of the least abundant dabbling ducks in the province. Highest probability of observation values are in the Thompson valley… and the Fraser Plateau area…The long-term population trends in North America, including British Columbia, remain poorly known.” Not very helpful really, but it was lovely to see them and quite a surprise.

Usually birds fly away from us but recently, as we walked along the fence line, a Sharp-shinned Hawk swept towards us to within a few feet. It had been sitting on a fence-post and perhaps hadn’t seen us; the day was overcast so the light wasn’t great. Of course, there was no chance for a photograph but it was so unusual that we were taken aback. The bird was possibly this year’s young and wasn’t yet accustomed to humans. ‘Sharpies’ nest here, in remote, undisturbed areas so we don’t know what the nesting population is, maybe it’s an island sub-species.

READ MORE: On the Wing: Pocket Birding and Being Insignificant

Autumn leaves are falling. Migrant birds are on their way and hundreds of Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets sheltered in the lee of the wind in the inlet. Small numbers of Sooty Shearwaters soared over them. We don’t often see them so close to shore; the southeaster had brought them in, together with hundreds of California, Glaucous-winged and Herring Gulls. A few Black-legged Kittiwakes joined the feeding groups and six Western Grebes kept their distance inside the bay. Times are changing, it’s a Friday 13th Harvest Moon tonight, long may it shine.

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